If Joan Baez were a short fat girl, with blonde hair in an up-sweep, I wonder if she would be accepted by the Folk addicts as a True Folk? Or can you picture Bob Dylan wearing thick, horn-rimmed glasses, and pimples? Would he be accepted as a Messenger of the True Gospel?
Of course not. It's all part of the scene, you see. You have to look exactly like what you claim you are. As Theda Bara was THE Vamp, and then a few years later Clara Row was THE Flapper, now Joan Baez is THE Folk Singer. Definitive.
I wonder if you've ever seen a real folksinger? I'll never forget the time I'm doing this Remote down in Hazard, Kentucky. I'm working for a Kentucky radio station, and I'm down near Hazard. They had this big Hootenanny. They had all these real folk artists, genuine folksingers. They come out of the bushes, dragging their jugs. The real crowd.
The typical folksinger would come out. They're all big and kind of overweight. We have the idea that all folk singers are thin, angry-looking guys. Let me tell you, most of them are kind of helfty - looking guys, because they've been weaned on a diet of fatback, fatback and salt pork, corn and chitlins. They're weaned on fatback cracklin's. They're raised on corn and chitlins, and they're on good solid White Lightnin'. Well, that's all high-calorie, low-vitamin stuff. So usually they've got no teeth but they've got plenty of blubber.
Now I'm sure you all know the bit down at The Bitter End, where the folksinger will come out on the stage. He can be one of several types:
Tall and blonde, usually with crew cut; white shirt open at neck, strong Bronx accent - CCNY division. This type often comes in threes, and occasionally in fours. They are clean-limbed and sing in a high, nasal, ecclesiastical whine. Often billed as brothers.
The Primitive. Wears blue work shirt, suitably faded, blue jeans, suitably faded, and scraggly beard. Unmistakable aura of having suffered. Also strong Bronx accent - CCNY division. Specializes in work songs of late 19th Century. Often has comfortable private income from father, who is a successful stockbroker.
Thin, intense, nervous-looking girl. Hair usually worn au naturel Comes equipped with - and occasionally without - sandals. This is a representative of the Sackcloth Ashes school. Strums guitar meaningfully. Usually knows from three to four chords, learned at great effort. Has strong Bronx accent. Specializes in Guilt songs.
Rollicking Jolly Boy division. This type often comes in gangs, complete with banjos, jugs, kazoos, and an assortment of bawdy songs, usually of Welsh origin. These young men, when out for a high time on the town, have often been known to drink as many as two malted milks. One once kissed a girl. Heavy Princeton ac-cent.
Scholarly Division. Usually comes in threes. Heavily de-greed, Most often led by bespectacled man with PH. D. They specialize in College Humor-type patter consisting mainly of snide remarks regarding the Sociology Department. Very big on LP. Their singing is negligible but their personalities exude the Eibald Academician. Strong Bronx accent.
Rollicking Welsh-Irish-English-Scandinavian-(fill in nationality) - Revolutionary Group. This group is usually fresh from a notably unsuccessful career on the Continent. Specializes in twinkling eye and high performances fees. Are considered thoroughly Authentic.
Lonesome Traveler. Male counterpart of "C". Thin, nervous, intense young man. Skin pale. Specializes in long, pregnant, meaningful pauses between songs, wrestling with great Emotion. Usually comes from very wealthy family. Sings of Suffering and Grief. Also specializes in Guilt songs. Brings out strong desire to play Mother on part of female listeners. Accent usually Cultured Eastern with slight touch of New Jersey. Forget it, girls. He has other fish to fry.
Elderly Negro. Appears on midweek show for brief session between "C" and "E". Ignored by audience.
Once in the spotlight, their technique varies some depending on their Message. Obviously "C" does not Come On in the same style as "D", but in all divisions one thing is fairly consistent - the bearing of a Message, and, of course, Authenticity. No one quite knows Authentic What, but Authenticity, like Sincerity, is ubiquitous these days and is a commodity much like freshness in bread and mildness in cigarettes. No bread is complete without freshness; no cigarette would dare to be other than mild. So it is with the simple college Folk Pilgrims of today.
For example, "E" might begin their program (after suitable winks of recognition at the assembled audience) with:
"The first song that we're going to sing is a simple little Appalachian Mountain ballad, combining the Old English harmonic and melodic line with the deep concern of these hardy mountain folk for their right to live as individuals and lead their lives according to the dictates of their own free and independent natures"
"C" doesn't actually Come On in the accepted sense, but appears wraithlike out of the smoky darkness, almost as a Madonna. This division usually works seated and begins the act by the skillful use of a long period of pregnant silence during which the performer usually looks soulfully down at the guitar or at the cigar butt laden floor. And then, as emotion wells up through her thin, frail body, we hear a tiny voice singing of Struggle and Truth. Needless to say, this division is highly successful and commands fantastic fees. It is not easy to be a Messenger of Truth.
"B", on the other hand, strides onstage carrying his guitar as though it were a hod of bricks; pauses for a brief moment in the spotlight before the microphone, legs spread wide. The simple worker of the field, after a short defiant glare at the audience, belts out his first song of Simple Toil. He is particularly enjoyed by those who once - in their sixteenth year - had a job delivering groceries for the Food Fair and who remember well their days of sweat and blood. This type is re-knowned for once having had an Actual Job. This fact is made much of in all his album-cover notes. True he held the job for less than two months since it was a Summer spent between his Junior and Senior years at Swarthmore, but it has served him well. Steelworkers find him incomprehensible, but he is a true harbinger of the simple life to Coffee-House Toilers.
"G" uses technique quite similar to "C". However, has some trouble with Madonna role, preferring a more Christlike en-trance. Usually more popular with intense, angry girls than with their dates. His sensitivity is staggering.
The others are self-explanatory, with the possible exception of "F". These groups usually work in rumpled suits and sweaty white shirts, quite often coming onstage under the feigned or actual influence of alcohol to show clearly their folksy European earthiness. Belting one another on the back with loud, Babbitt-like claps of bonhomie, they usually begin their act by Insulting The English, thus establishing the incontrovertible fact that they are True Rebels. Of course the English are three thousand five hundred miles away and the issue has long since been settled, and furthermore their existence is totally unknown to those against whom they are "rebelling". Nonetheless, this show of bravado particularly warms the cockles of the Sophomore heart - who feels that he is also a True Rebel against the tyranny of Mother and The Faculty. Not to mention Rotten Society.
"H", it is sad to relate, has always had trouble Coming On, so naturally fails to Establish His Identity with the truth seekers. He has never been recorded.
There are several types which we have not mentioned due to space limitations. Among them is the Sweet Country Girl, the Painter Folk Singer, the Teaneck (NJ) Rider Of The Purple Sage, and the bearded Obscenity Specialist. After these, there are numerous sub-types, usually consisting of borrowings from one or the other of the major divisions.
I hate to tell you this, but the REAL folksinger is a little bit different. He arrives up on the stage, and you hear:
"Ptttttttttt. HAAAAAUUUU-UUUUGGGGHHHHH - PTUI!" He's clearing the pipes.
"Boing. Boing, boing. Bwaaan-nng." He tunes the guitar a little. And then he says:
"HEY, WILL SOMEBODY TURN DOWN THET DAYUM RADIATUH! MAH STRINGS IS ALL LOOSE! SONOVA-BIUTGH!"
I'll tell you another thing about. the real folksingers, the real folk-singers. Hardly any of them are Tortured. The only time they're Tortured is when somebody steals their jug. And as far as being tortured about Relations, Integration, Building The Railroad, Chopping Down Trees For The Union Pacific - forget it. They never heard of it.
Now I can hear all the CCNY Folk Addicts hollering:
"That's not Folk music, that's Country music."
Well where the devil do you think the Folk are? They're in the country!
And there's not one sliver of Suffering in a carload.
He then leers for a good thirty seconds at all the nearest girls in the audience, jaw hanging s'lackly. Behind him, his partner has warmed up his electric guitar. He has been drinking. For real.
Big Cousin Ed spits again and begins in this fashion:
"Well, naow. Dayum. These pants is gittin' tight. Guess ah been stuffin' it away too much."
Winks leeringly at aforementioned girls. Little Dickie begins with loud electric G-Minor chord. He is getting restless.
At this point, Large, beefy, red-necked citizen wearing blue over-alls and sitting near the door at the rear of the hall bellows:
"Hey Ed, you still payin' ali-mony to Marcie Lou?" Big Ed, after guffaws from audience have subsided, reposts:
"Not unless she ketches me, by God!"
This business goes on for several minutes; sometimes hours. At one point Big Cousin Ed says:
"Well, ah got this old song mah old grandaddy use to sing when he was fulla Ole Gran' Dad.."
More guffaws, and they're off.
Let me tell you, one of those cats shows up at The Bitter End and within thirty seconds he is out sliding right down McDougal Street on the back of his neck.